'Star' shines via preview

HOLLYWOOD — Two months before its release, the online buzz machine has been kicked into high gear for “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”

Over the weekend, the George Lucas-helmed pic was privately screened at the South by Southwest music and media confab in Austin, Texas, for Internet film geek Harry Knowles, who immediately posted a gushing review of the sci-fi sequel on his Ain’t It Cool News Web site.

Knowles declined to disclose the identity of the individuals who gave him the opportunity to view the unfinished pic in a hotel room. But in enthusiastic anticipation he heaped praises on what he saw, highlighting the lead characters, action sequences, plot and music.

‘Real deal’

“After the film was finished playing, I was just beside myself with glee,” Knowles writes. “I love this film desperately. I want to continually watch it for about a week with my best friends. I want to see it digitally projected with sternum-shaking sound. … This movie is the real deal. It is smart, beautiful … thrilling and electrical. Line up now. This ‘Star Wars’ is for real.”

Lucasfilm has always been known for being highly guarded over the “Star Wars” franchise, not letting anyone — not even distrib partner Fox — view a pic in the series until just before its release.

Lucasfilm rep Lynn Hale said, “We don’t know how he could have gotten a copy of it, but we’re glad he liked the film.”

Fox declined to comment.

Hmmm …

Thus, it is surprising that “Clones” would be leaked in such a calculated way to anyone. Then again …

Never the shy critic, Knowles has been credited in the past for influencing Internet masses to flock to pics through positive reviews. And with “Clones’ ” trailers being overpowered by campaigns for “Spider-Man” and even “Scooby-Doo” as well as continuing buzz for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings,” Lucasfilm is trying to steal back some of the thunder back for its franchise.

“The sources that showed it to me were tired … of all the rhetoric about Tolkien, all the focus I had on ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” Knowles writes. “They wanted someone outside of the ranch, outside of the ‘circle’, someone that seemed to be straying from the fold to see what it was that Lucas had done.”

Buzz booster

The tactic seems to have paid off.

Knowles is in the middle of a book tour, during which, he said, he’ll share his views of “Clones” with his fans. The story of the leak is also expected to make the press rounds — just as the Oscar race comes to a close.

Said Knowles, “What Lucas has done is to make a film that is so relentlessly entertaining and thrilling that there will be no movie this summer that can stand against it. This is it.”

You can’t buy buzz better than that.

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